Comic Review: ‘Secret Empire’ #1

Hail Hydra-Cap?

Written by:  Nick Spencer / pencilled by:  Steve McNiven

What’s it about?

Hydra has taken control with Steve Rogers as its leader…can the remnants of the superhero community prevail and restore hope before all is lost?

In review

Building on the prelude chapters in Secret Empire #0 and the Free Comic Book Day issue (and spilling out of the pages of Nick Spencer’s Captain America: Steve Rogers series), Secret Empire #1 thrusts readers into the midst of Marvel’s latest comics event.  You’d be forgiven for finding the word “event” wearying, especially with the disappointment of Civil War II still lingering in the thoughts of many, but with this opening salvo and the shocking revelations of issue #0 it seems that writer Nick Spencer is stirring up a rich brew that will truly shake up the Marvel Universe.

As even the most casual comics reader will by now be aware, Secret Empire is the culmination of Hydra’s plans to seize control of the United States – and the free world beyond – with Steve Rogers’ Captain America as their leader.  The reveal of Rogers’ Hydra allegiance (thanks to some reality altering meddling via a sentient cosmic cube named Kobik – see the Avengers: Standoff crossover) way back in the premiere issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers caused significant controversy, with heavy ripples of discontent still reverberating throughout fan circles.  To see Marvel’s greatest patriot become a symbol of evil is understandably distressing and although Spencer has not been restrained in this regard, he has managed to construct a compelling arc that any true fan of comics should approach with an open mind.

With Secret Empire #1, Spencer keeps the controversy flowing as we skip ahead some months after issue #0 with citizens of the U.S. under the rule of Hydra and kept in check by Steve Rogers and his forces.  With the bulk of the superhero community either stranded in space battling endless hordes of Chituari or trapped beneath a Darkhold ‘bubble’ over Manhattan, it’s left to an underground resistance lead by Black Widow and Hawkeye to plot Hydra’s downfall.  Whilst new readers will likely be lost (luckily Marvel have just published catch-up collection The Road to Secret Empire), having the story told mainly via the perspective of a young schoolboy named Rayshaun helps to ease us in without an overload of exposition as images of schoolchildren raising a ‘Hail Hydra’ immediately establish that there is an ominous shift in the Marvel U’s status quo.

What Spencer does with Steve Rogers is not to make him purely evil in a one dimensional sense, whilst he may not be the hero we’re familiar with there are layers to the characterisation as he paints a man who feels he is simply doing what is right in the circumstances of his altered history.  Despite the revelations of issue #0 as to the nature of these ‘alterations’ it’s unlikely that Marvel will facilitate a complete and permanent perversion of such a beloved and treasured character.

Secret Empire also has some definite parallels to the current political climate and tenuous international situations we see playing out in the news every day.  To Spencer’s credit it doesn’t feel totally overt or unnecessarily forced in the face of the reader but it’s there as much or as little as any individual might wish to read into it.

It might be dark and pessimistic stuff but there’s still a layer of hope and even fun as the younger, brighter Marvel heroes of the resistance, including Miles Morales’ Spider-Man, Amadeus Cho’s ‘Totally Awesome’ Hulk and Riri Williams’ Ironheart take the share of the action and together with the ever-loving blue-eyed Thing provide some much needed beats of humour and optimism.

Visually, Secret Empire #1 is solid albeit the usual sharpness and detail of Steve McNiven’s pencils are a little muddied by the dark, washed-out colours by Matthew Wilson.  It’s by no means as stunning as McNiven’s work on the original Civil War or Old Man Logan but decent enough and a good fit for the overall tone of the book.  It’ll be interesting to see how much consistency can be maintained with the rotation of numerous different artists on the nine issue series.

Controversies aside, Secret Empire is making for enjoyable reading and will surely pave the way for the hope and heroism promised by Marvel’s forthcoming Legacy initiative.

The bottom line:  A strong ‘start’ to yet another Marvel Comics event but one that builds on an already solid foundation as Nick Spencer presses forward with Hydra’s domination of the Marvel Universe.

Secret Empire #1 is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Secret Empire #1

A new has risen as Marvel Comics event ‘Secret Empire’ commences (cover art by Mark Brooks).

Comic Review: ‘Civil War II’ #8

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / pencilled by:  David Marquez

What’s it about?

As the visions of Ulysses become more intense, Tony Stark and Carol Danvers face off with the future of the entire superhero community at stake…

In review

After numerous delays, Marvel’s blockbuster event draws to a close with the extra-sized final issue of Civil War II.  Showing great promise in its first couple of issues, Civil War II quickly slid comfortably into a by-the-numbers comic event rhythm.  That being said, the event did produce some standout moments (the vision of Miles Morales’ Spider-Man killing Steve Rogers’ Captain America on the steps of Capitol Hill being particularly vivid and unnerving) and David Marquez’s art has elevated each instalment above mediocrity, but on the whole it failed to be anywhere near as ground-breaking as Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s original Civil War.

In favour of this final issue, Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez deliver some exciting edge-of-the-seat action with Bendis maintaining the tension and drama and Marquez presenting his amazingly detailed, blockbuster visuals as the conflict between Tony Stark/Iron Man and Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel reaches its climax.  As with previous issues the moral debate is touched upon but never fully explored (a shame considering the strength of some of Bendis’ other work) and ultimately taking a backseat to those aforementioned blockbuster elements.

Given that the delays Civil War II has faced meant its finale following the release of several relaunched ‘Marvel Now!’ titles, the conclusion – specifically the fate of Tony Stark – is unsurprising given what we’ve seen in Infamous Iron Man and Invincible Iron Man but it non-the-less still carries some dramatic weight as the path is paved for the future of the Marvel Universe.  Perhaps that’s where the problem lies, with the need to establish the status quo of Marvel’s latest line-wide shake-up it’s left less room from Brian Bendis to really delve into the commentary of Civil War II.

In the end, taken as a whole Civil War II was an enjoyable albeit undemanding blockbuster event that is unlikely to be heralded as a classic in years to come but may still be worthy of a revisit when the dust has settled.  It’s not the greatest story Marvel has delivered in recent years but it’s also far from the weakest.

The bottom line:  Whilst Civil War II ultimately failed to live up to the potential of its premise, this final issue succeeds in delivering some great moments of action and drama with a fitting conclusion that establishes the future of the Marvel U.

Civil War II #8 is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Marvel's grand event comes to a close in the final issue of Civil War II (cover art by David Marquez).

Marvel’s grand event comes to a close in the final issue of Civil War II (cover art by David Marquez).

Comic Review: ‘Civil War II’ #1

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / pencilled by:  David Marquez

What’s it about?

With the emergence of a new Inhuman with the ability to see future events, Captain Marvel believes that this gift should be used to counter danger before it arises…

In review

The battle lines are drawn once again in the Marvel Comics universe as the opening chapter of the highly anticipated Civil War II event lands with a bang.  Following the prologues of the Free Comic Book Day special and issue #0, the extra sized Civil War II #1 is a promising start for Marvel’s latest event that hopes to repeat the success of Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s original Civil War of ten years ago.  Whilst the saga is only just beginning, so far any initial concerns that Civil War II would merely retread what has gone before can be safely put to one side.  Just as Civil War II features a slightly varied and expanded set of players and their respective affiliations (encompassing groups such as the Avengers, New Avengers, the Ultimates and the Inhumans) it also offers a different set of ethical debates and character viewpoints in comparison to the original Civil War.

The central debate in Civil War II concerns new Inhuman Ulysses who is plagued with visions of the future and whether that knowledge should be utilised to prevent catastrophe and safeguard the innocent or that it could in fact alter events in such a way as to create even more danger.  As leader of the Ultimates, Carol Danvers’ Captain Marvel firmly believes that future threats should be tackled before they can arise, a case which is supported by the opening battle against a Celestial invasion force which leaves the Marvel heroes victorious.  Somewhat surprisingly, it’s Tony Stark who takes the opposing stance, ever the futurist who now finds those values in question when considering the consequences foreknowledge of a possible future could hold.  Stark’s side of the argument is upheld when the superhero community is hit by a tragedy none of them could see coming and sets the stage for the rest of Civil War II.

With a script packed with drama, emotion and punchy dialogue, Brian Michael Bendis provokes those aforementioned ethical debates without being overly preachy, presenting identifiable viewpoints from both sides, which may make it much harder to choose sides this time around.  Visually, this is a stunning book with Bendis enlisting the talents of former Invincible Iron Man penciller David Marquez and colourist Justin Ponsor.  Marquez provides lavishly detailed layouts with energetic and epic action scenes – accentuated beautifully by Ponsor’s vivid colours – together with dynamic character work that evokes the right level of ‘feeling’ to those moments of emotion and drama.  Marvel’s latest blockbuster comic event is in safe hands.

The bottom line:  As first issues go, Civil War II shows great potential for Marvel’s latest event with excitement and drama delivered by a trusted creative team.

Civil War II #1 is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Marvel's latest event kicks off in 'Civil War II' #1 (cover art by Marko Djurdjevic).

Marvel’s latest event kicks off in ‘Civil War II’ #1 (cover art by Marko Djurdjevic).